Friday, June 30, 2017

Love, Unexpectedly: Surprisingly Delightful 'Bridges of Madison County' a High-Water Mark for Marriott Theatre -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Reviews

The Bridges of Madison County 
Music & lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Nick Bowling
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL
Thru August 13

Beyond loving theater of many types--and most of all, musicals--I'm often intrigued by how local self-producing venues (and/or troupes) determine what shows they're going to a stage in a given season or year.

This is particularly so when it comes to the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, which--unless things have changed since I read this factoid--boasts the largest subscriber base of any theater in the U.S.

I first went to Marriott in 2000--not so incidentally the year I began to voluminously embrace live musical theater--to see Evita, at that point a show 21 years past its Broadway debut. 

Assuming the theater's Show History dating back to its 1980 origins can be trusted, the in-the-round venue at the Marriott Resort had previously staged Evita in 1988, and also did it in 2016. 

Though it seems Marriott Theatre has always tried to mix up its show offerings, I don't think I'd be insulting anyone to suggest that well-known classics of the musical theater canon have been its stock and trade--with shows like The Music Man, West Side Story and My Fair Lady occasionally recurring--and to a certain this remains the case. 

But, understandably, in order to retain and satisfy its existing, traditionally older subscribers--both those who mainly want the classics and those who have already seen them enough to appreciate something new--as well as bring in new season ticket holders and ad hoc attendees with a variety of preferences, the theater has seemingly expanded its focus and oeuvre in recent years.

Perhaps due to its drawing power, Marriott Theatre has been able to offer audiences the first regional productions--or close to it--of Broadway hits such as The Producers, Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Les Miserables, the latter being one of the best shows I've ever seen there. 

But they've also commissioned & created brand new shows (Once Upon a Time in New Jersey, Hero, October Sky), reached deeper into the canon for more rarely-staged oldies (On the Town, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, She Loves Me, City of Angels), presented a younger-skewing show like Spring Awakening as a subscriber add-on, and recreated screen-to-stage adaptions (Sister Act, Elf) not long after their first national tours.

While I've never been a Marriott subscriber and haven't seen everything, I've made a point of getting to several of their off-the-beaten-path efforts. (Only recently have I been graciously invited to see & review every show).

I've considerably liked several and have typically applauded the daring to do something different in my reviews. 

Yet, truth be told, few of the original or obscurer musicals have wowed me as much as phenomenal Marriott takes on known entities like La Cage aux Folles, Man of La Mancha and Mamma Mia

Currently and up next, Marriott has slotted two recent Broadway flops, The Bridges of Madison County and Honeymoon in Vegas, both created by the same well-regarded composer/lyricist--Jason Robert Brown, who also wrote Parade, presently quite well-done at Glencoe's Writers Theatre--but the type of name-brand titles that can make one wonder, "Does everything need to be turned into a musical?"

While I again found Marriott's programming choices gutsy, I can't say I wasn't a bit dubious before arriving at Bridges on Wednesday night. 

So I wouldn't blame anyone for being a bit dubious about this @@@@@ review, but I honestly believe the theater's attempts to mount something phenomenal beyond the tried & true has never been more fully realized.

I don't think I can quite say this is the very best thing I've ever seen in Lincolnshire--Les Miz and Man of La Mancha are simply better musicals, delivered superbly at Marriott--but between the show itself and its cast, direction, costuming, scenery and the performances, I found this to be a grand slam. 

That it was so surprisingly so makes it even better. 

Perhaps it was because I was sitting five feet from the stage at Marriott as opposed to the upper balcony of the cavernous downtown Oriental Theatre, but though I had seen a sublime rendition of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic The King and I just the night before and declared, "It's quite possible you won't see The King and I done any better elsewhere," I actually enjoyed myself more witnessing The Bridges of Madison County onstage for the first time.

This isn't to say there are songs anywhere near as delectable as "Getting to Know You" or "Shall We Dance." Brown writes sumptuous tunes, but more of the drive-the-story than hum-along variety.

Just in reading the Playbill pre-show, I was impressed by the caliber of the cast, which seems akin--on paper and in performance--to what you might expect on Broadway or a full-Equity first national tour.

I still recall Broadway vet Kathy Voytko being fantastic years ago in Stephen Sondheim's Passion at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and in Les Miz at Marriott (alongside her husband, John Cudia), and she is simply fantastic here as Francesca Johnson, an Iowa housewife born in Italy who follows her soldier husband to back to his farm, circa 1965. She isn't unhappy as the mother of two, but aware that certain dreams have gone unfulfilled.

As no surprise to those who have read Robert James Waller's 1992 mega-selling novel or seen the 1995 Bridges of Madison County screen adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, just as Francesca's husband, son and daughter have headed to a state fair without her, a ruggedly handsome, mildly iconoclastic photographer for National Geographic named Robert Kincaid ambles up her driveway asking for directions to one of the famed covered wooden bridges of Madison County. (Here, if the link works, are some of those bridges as photographed by me in 2013.)

Playing Robert is Nathaniel Stampley, who has starred in The Lion King, The Color Purple and Porgy & Bess on Broadway and was truly sensational heading Man of La Mancha at Marriott just last year, also under the direction of Nick Bowling.

Along with having one of the best singing voices I've ever heard, Stampley exudes an easygoing charm that never allows the adulterous affair between Robert and Francesca to feel cheap.

I read the book years ago near its release--supposedly it has sold 60 million copies--and saw the movie much later after visiting Iowa, and wasn't overwhelmed by either.

I'm unable to cite specifics, but won't debate suggestions of mawkishness in how the novel and film presented the clandestine, extramarital romance.

But onstage, in these hands, abetted by other superlative performances--including Bart Shatto, who humanizes Francesca's husband Bud in a way that doesn't make one go, "She's married to a jerk so why not?"--a believable case is made for the possibility (likelihood?) of decent people being smitten & stimulated beyond longstanding & largely gratifying monogamy...and acting on it without seeming abominable or even immoral. 

I'm neither married nor a hardcore moralist, so I don't mean to sugarcoat adultery or how anyone might view this depiction, but whereas an entanglement such as Francesca's and Robert's could easily feel tawdry, Voytko--employing a fine Italian accent--Stampley and director Bowling never let it.

Beyond Shatto, who has played Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on tour and Broadway, excellent work is done by Wydetta Carter as Francesca's lovable yet nosy neighbor Marge, whose husband Charlie is well-played by a frequent favorite of mine, Terry Hamilton, who doesn't even get to use his estimable vocal abilities.

The same can be said--just to illustrate how deep this cast is--about Nick Cosgrove, who played Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys on Broadway and tour but has a relatively minor, non-singing role here.

As Francesca's and Bud's children, Michael and Carolyn, Taylor Hake and Brooke MacDougal also merit note.

Two nights after seeing The Bridges of Madison County, which came after a bit of Spotifamiliarization with the Broadway cast recording, I can only name "To Build a Home," "Wondering" and a song that seems not to be named "Just One Second" but repeated those words in its refrain.

But with the wonderful voices of Voytko, Stampley, Shatto, Carter, Emily Berman and others, everything sounded delectable in person, including "Home Before You Know It," "What Do You Call a Man Like That?," "Another Life," "The World Inside a Frame" and "It All Fades Away."

Far more than upon taking my seat, I understand why director Nick Bowling--who hails from small-town Iowa himself--said of Brown's score:
"It's the kind of music you fall in love with the first time you hear it."
The decision to employ still images of Iowan landscape across the the theater's back walls works well thanks to Projection Designer Anthony Churchill, and while I would've liked to have seen photos of some of the actual bridges, Jeffrey D. Kmiec's inventive set design includes a skeletal yet impressive onstage bridge.

The costumes by Sally Dolembo are first-rate while often appropriately understated, and while I can't delineate the responsibilities of Music Director Ryan T. Nelson versus a Musical Staging credit for William Carlos Angulo, clearly they, the musicians and everyone involved in this terrific show deserve to share in the praise.

Obviously, I'm not telling you much of what unfolds or revealing Francesca decision when torn between Robert and her family.

Yet while timelines get rather rushed near the end, which could possibly be handled a bit more smoothly--I don't know how much is, or has to be, indebted to the source novel--I  clearly feel this iconic love story translates exceptionally well to the Marriott Theatre stage despite it lasting just 3 months on Broadway and my never having been a Bridges acolyte. (The musical's book was written by Marsha Norman.)

While I certainly wouldn't mind seeing this show again and am already looking forward to Honeymoon in Vegas--and also plan to revisit the movie version of Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years--I applaud Marriott's artistic team for not only being a bit adventuresome in programming shows but, clearly in this case, getting it so right in every respect.

The result is a bridge--from the tried & true to the new & terrific--almost anyone should enjoy crossing.

A Summery Romance: O'Neill's 'Ah, Wilderness!' Winds Up Eliciting More of an "Eh" -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Ah, Wilderness!
by Eugene O'Neill
directed by Steve Scott
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru July 23

Many is the occasion when we turn to entertainment--and perhaps expressly choose a lighthearted work--to provide an antidote to real-life.

There is enough drama, trauma, struggle, heartache, pain, provocation and tragedy to be found at home, work, on social media and the nightly news that chilling out with a rom-com or sitcom can be quite refreshing, and even restorative in its relative mindlessness.

Which isn't to suggest that something comic and/or fluffy can't also be topical, thought-provoking or truly outstanding.

But while I applaud Goodman Theatre for enabling longtime staff producer Steve Scott to choose a lesser-known--and yes, lighter--Eugene O'Neill play for his last directorial effort before he retires, Ah, Wilderness! is far more genial than genius.

And even though the inference I got--from various marketing materials--about the play being a comedy chronicling a teenage romance, in typical O'Neill fashion Ah, Wilderness! is somewhat long (though at 2-1/2 hours far shorter than A Long Day's Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh) and depicts both a quarrelsome family (albeit with a good dose of love & laughter) and alcoholism.

Muriel McComber (played by Ayssette Munoz), the girl that young Richard Miller (Niall Cunningham, from CBS' Life in Pieces) loves as he and his family enjoy the summer of 1906 in a large seaside home, doesn't even appear onstage until Act 2.

Before that, we get a good bit of bickering between Richard and his parents (Randall Newsome, Ora Jones), watch him visit a house of ill-repute and interact with a kindhearted escort (Amanda Drinkall), and note the wistfulness of Aunt Lily (the always terrific Kate Fry) regarding Uncle Sid--her former love, from the other side of the family (Larry Bates)--whose inability to stay sober is played for both humor and pathos.

So a play written by Eugene O'Neill in 1933, after he had won three Pulitzer Prizes--though prior to his two now most famous works, mentioned above--certainly has a variety of strains to keep one engaged without ever getting too dark or heavy-handed.

And once Muriel--who Richard thinks has cruelly rejected him--finally joins him onstage, the play winds up offering glimpses of both first love and familial love that many may enjoy, nostalgically and acutely.

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life, and not only might a (somewhat) breezy beach comedy be just what life prescribes, Goodman's summer offering is about as different an option as can be from Steppenwolf Theatre's new, in-your-face and overtly topical Pass Over.

Yet while I wouldn't dissuade anyone seeking "a nice night or afternoon of theater," especially when weighed against other shows currently in Chicago--not only Pass Over, but downtown musicals like Hamilton, Aladdin and The King & I and stellar works throughout the city and suburbs--Ah, Wilderness! feels quite dated, inconsequential and, except perhaps for O'Neill obsessives, inessential.

I didn't mind seeing it, enjoyed it more than not and valued furthering my familiarity with one of the holy trinity of legendary American playwrights--Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams being the other two.

Longtime Goodman subscribers, like me, should appreciate something different and airier, and if nothing else, applaud all the great work Steve Scott has done over the past 37 years at the theater.

I do not know Mr. Scott, but have seen a number of works he directed--not just at his home theater, where he also served as Producer and in other capacities over the years--and perceive him not only to be a considerable theatrical talent, but...

...a good man, indeed.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Shall We Dance? A Royally Impressive Touring Take on 'The King and I' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The King & I
National Tour of Lincoln Center Broadway Revival
Oriental Theatre, Chicago
Thru July 2

Just last year, I saw a stellar production of The King and I as the Lyric Opera of Chicago's 4th annual staging of a classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. (It had been many years since I saw it last, and then it was sung in Danish as I was visiting Copenhagen.)

As I wrote in my review, I admired and enjoyed it, but--presuming the production provided a good indication--it gave me the sense that I didn't love it quite as much as R&H's four other masterpieces.

Of course, saying The King and I is the 5th best Rodgers & Hammerstein musical--behind, IMO, The Sound of Music, South Pacific (not yet done by Lyric, as they staged Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady this year), Oklahoma and Carousel--is a bit akin to suggesting A Hard Day's Night is the 5th best Beatles album (some might argue The White Album) behind Sgt. Pepper's, Revolver, Abbey Road and Rubber Soul.

Each is still among the greatest creative works ever made by, arguably, the defining artists of their respective idioms.

But in the 1951 musical about an English schoolteacher visiting Siam (now Thailand) to teach the
children of that country's king, certain aspects can ring culturally insensitive nowadays.

Or at least a bit askew.

And while there are undeniably brilliant showtunes that I love--"I Whistle a Happy Tune," the glorious "Getting to Know You" and "Shall We Dance"--and several other fantastic songs, in terms of numbers that prompt me to tap my toes or sing along (quietly but blissfully), I just found The King & I a bit lesser than its brethren.

As such, I don't know that I ordinarily would have opted to see any production of The King & I just a year later, but my Broadway in Chicago subscription series included a touring version based on a Lincoln Center (NYC Broadway) production that drew raves.

Especially as it stars Laura Michelle Kelly--an actress I greatly enjoyed as Mary Poppins in London, and more recently in Finding Neverland on Broadway--is directed even on tour by the highly acclaimed Bartlett Sher and was absolutely lauded by the Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones, I was quite excited to see it Tuesday night at the Oriental Theatre.

Given the magnificent Eastern ornamentation of that venue's interior, it was the idyllic place to see The King & I, and from the performances--by Kelly as Anna, Jose Llana, reprising his Broadway stint as the King, and many others including Manna Nichols (Tuptim), Joan Almedilla (Lady Thiang), Kavin Panmeechao (Lun Tha) and Brian Rivera (Kralahome)--to the scenery, costumes and choreography, everything about this rendition is splendid.

Though I liked the Lyric's take, this one is just better.

Yet I still can't say it fundamentally changed my high-yet-not-paramount opinion of the musical itself.

In ways that Chris Jones spelled out far better than I can, Sher helped strike a better tonality that helped better balance how the King's developing Siam is depicted in contrast to the British Empire during a time of colonialism.

But while the production values are superb, Kelly exquisite of voice and demeanor, songs like "A Puzzlement," "Something Wonderful" and "I Have Dreamed" delivered terrifically by Llana, Almedilla and Nichols & Panmeechao respectively, and the hum-along gems truly resplendent, for me, in sum, the musical still wasn't quite perfect.

There are places where, for me, the show's pacing seems to lag, and--as at Lyric--the extended "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" (i.e. Uncle Tom's Cabin) ballet performed by the children, who themselves are all first-rate, couldn't prevent my mind from wandering.

Relative to the abundant wonders throughout The King & I--and this rendition in particular--these are rather small quibbles.

If you love musicals and want to be well-versed in the classics of the canon, you really should get down to the Oriental before this run closes on Sunday.

It's quite possible you won't see The King & I done any better elsewhere.

But if, like some I know, you saw the Lyric production last year, I don't know that this staging makes it imperative or important to revisit the material so soon, even though the cast, Sher's choices and overall feel are superior.

Etc., etc., etc. (as the King quips repeatedly throughout the show).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Waiting for Substantive Change: Referencing Beckett's 'Godot,' Antoinette Nwandu's 'Pass Over' Offers a Powerful Perspective at Steppenwolf -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Pass Over
a world premiere play
by Antoinette Nwandu
directed by Danya Taymor
Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Thru July 9

As a straight, white, Jewish, lifelong suburbanite, I cannot suggest I have direct understanding of what an African-American--or any other minority, or a woman for that matter--experiences on a daily basis, let alone over the course of a lifetime.

I also can't deny that there have been times when being in the vast minority myself--on a train, in a park, etc.--has made me somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps in this and other ways, I have been guilty of racism.

But I wholeheartedly believe that no one is less than equal to me due to the color of their skin (or their gender, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, etc.).

And while far from a scholar on the complexities of the racial divide, I not only believe it deplorable when blacks are insulted, denigrated, stigmatized, etc., and barbaric when specific cops (and others) harass, brutalize and kill individuals without due provocation or subsequent punishment, I absolutely believe that the white power structure of the United States has been historically and systemically guilty of outright abuse and racism in many ways that have restricted African-Americans from equitably enjoying opportunities and freedoms.

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
Certainly this includes overtly horrifying examples such as slavery, lynchings, the KKK, segregation, "Whites Only" water fountains/rest rooms/restaurants, racial epithets, beatings, voting suppression, etc., etc., etc., but also to vast consequence, discriminatory mortgage lending practices established in the 1930s by the Federal Housing Administration, an agency of the U.S. government. (See this piece I posted a couple years ago.)

Due to "redlining," blacks were denied the ability to buy homes in many areas of the United States, and this meant that generational wealth--via real estate ownership--of African-Americans has lagged behind that of other citizens, with relegation to poorer areas also equating to generally inferior educational and employment opportunities.

Explaining all this may certainly seem like a rather odd, obtuse and extraneous way to begin a theater review.

But I believe much of the messaging of Antoinette Nwandu's new play, Pass Over--in a world premiere at Steppenwolf's upstairs theater--pertains to various elements of what I tried to address above.

And resonated with me as such.

Especially as the play openly uses metaphor, symbolism and allusion to make powerful & overt statements about African-American lives and authoritarian injustices that hamper their progress, I ultimately liked the play largely because I concur with what I think it is trying to say.

I believe this important to note because of the recent controversy regarding Hedy Weiss, longtime theater critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Her review of Pass Over included viewpoints that some denounced as racist, including Steppenwolf Theatre itself, which said in a statement:
"We denounce the viewpoints expressed in some of these reviews as they fail to acknowledge the very systemic racism that PASS OVER addresses directly. Particularly egregious are the comments from Sun Times critic Hedy Weiss, whose critical contribution has, once again, revealed a deep seated bigotry and a painful lack of understanding of this country’s historic racism."
The backlash against Weiss included a petition begun by the Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition asking that theaters "not invite Hedy Weiss to the run of any present or future productions."

To me, several of the comments detractors have taken umbrage with in Weiss' reviews--and occasional in-person appearances--going back years are indeed egregiously offensive.

I won't defend her for beliefs I find quite objectionable, but must note that I never personally had perceived racist, homophobic, sexist, Islamophobic or body shaming remarks in her reviews until they were pointed out (with the caveat that I don't read her much, never having been a Sun-Times subscriber and preferring the Tribune's critic Chris Jones). 

That she seemingly has praised many works with African-American themes and performers may be besides the point, but I found only a few of the offending examples cited truly wretched. While I won't question anyone's outrage, I can also see where a few blatantly insulting phrases may have been "cherry picked" from among thousands of reviews (many of which feed theater marketing efforts with positive blurbs attributed to Weiss).

I'm getting a bit lost in the weeds here, but while I admire Steppenwolf for openly standing against racism, I had a problem with their blatant condemnation of Hedy Weiss as a theater that champions open expression and provocative statements. (I've been informed that, after dialogue between Steppenwolf and the Sun-Times, Weiss will continue to be invited with complimentary tickets.)

It made me wonder if I could comfortably see Pass Over and review it without worrying that any negativity might offend.

After now seeing it--and the behest of a friend with whom I had a good discussion--I'm wondering if my liking the play because it aligns with my sociopolitical beliefs is any more or less valid than Weiss taking issue with parts that didn't mesh with hers.

Which may still very well go beyond what a theatrical review should be assessing, but the point is not moot.

If you lean to the right and believe it proper to mention the proliferation of black on black crime anytime the epidemic of police brutality against African-Americans is decried, unless Pass Over changes your mind--which great theater can--chances are you won't embrace the play.

Certainly, as Weiss effusively praised, the acting in Pass Over--by Jon Michael Hill, Julian Parker and Ryan Hallahan--is excellent.

And while I have never seen nor read Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, the way writer Nwandu has paralleled that absurdist work into a portrayal of two young African-American men hanging around a hardscrabble stretch of town while wishing to one day reach "the promised land" is clearly quite imaginative.

Though I had noted my Judaism at top, I am not observant and much of the play's religious symbolism--Hill's character is named Moses--likely went beyond my comprehension, but the dialogue is consistently compelling.

I won't reveal what happens when a white cop played by Hallahan shows up, but I found it in keeping with the statements the play seems to be making--given all-too-common viral videos of horrendous acts--without necessarily condemning all police officers.

My biggest issue with the play, dramatically, was the way another white character, named Mister (and also played by Hallahan), appears in a very unrealistic way.

What he represents--devilish duplicity, as I read it--is extremely powerful, but though I get that the play is to be taken as metaphorical, allegorical, symbolic, etc., more so than realistic, the gritty setting and streetwise dialogue between Moses and Kitch (Parker) captivated me with its glimpse into a world I don't see enough, even in my entertainments.

So the unnatural arrival of Mister felt too overt, a way largely for Nwandu to help get her point across without otherwise fitting into the scenario at hand, as unrealistic and referencing Waiting for Godot as it may have been.

One can certainly argue that anything is fair game in the realm of theater, but the truth is that I can't cogently explain precisely why I never felt Pass Over to be a @@@@@ (out of 5) play. And the truth is, I was perceiving it as likely a @@@1/2 play until a rather striking moment near the end kicked me in the gut and made me think something along the lines of, "Wow, that was really powerful. I get the point and agree with it."

Hence @@@@ for a play with a vital perspective and well-dramatized point of view.

At least to my way of thinking.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pix of 56: My Photos of Mark Buehrle's White Sox Uniform Number Retirement Ceremony - June 24, 2017

As heretical as it may sound to some, I am a fan of both the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox.

This goes back to my childhood when the Cubs were more readily on the family TV and--with friends, relatives and school field trips--more commonly attended, but the White Sox had night games, an exploding scoreboard and the wonderfully-coiffed Oscar Gamble.

And, before he switched sides of town, Harry Caray.

The Sox were the first Chicago baseball team in my lifetime to make the playoffs and, years later, to win a World Series (in 2005). I reveled in both, with t-shirts to prove it, although I was admittedly a bit more overjoyed when the Cubs finally won it all last year. (If the two teams play for a title, I'll root for the Cubs, but otherwise unabashedly support the Sox as well.)

With close friends who are more avidly and exclusively White Sox fans, I've enjoyed going to many Sox games over the years and was--quite fortuitously--at Mark Buehrle's first no-hitter in 2007 (the only one I've ever seen live; I was a day shy of being at his 2009 perfect game). 

A cornerstone of the White Sox for 12 seasons, Buehrle was--rather astonishingly--a 38th round draft pick with little fanfare who would make it to the majors just two years later at the age of 21, win 214 regular season games (161 with the Sox), make five All-Star teams, garner four Gold Glove Awards, help the Sox capture their first title in 88 years and earn nearly $140 million dollars.

Yet his considerable on-the-field accomplishments only partly explain why Buehrle is so beloved by Sox fans, such as my best friend Jordan who considers him his all-time favorite player by a wide margin.

By almost all perceptions, Buehrle is a humble, down-to-earth, exceptionally cool guy who was as personable with members of the grounds crew as with his teammates or club executives. (This piece he recently wrote for The Players Tribune is a wonderful read toward that end.)

And his tarp-sliding rain delay escapades further bespeak his knack for exuding child-like passion while never taking himself too seriously to have fun. 

Finishing his 16-year major league career with the Toronto Blue Jays--you can view his impressive stats here--Buehrle retired after the 2015 season.

This past Saturday, the White Sox and their fans warmly welcomed him back to Chicago with a day in his honor, at which his uniform #56 was retired.

So I was delighted when Jordan and his wife Erin wound up with an extra ticket to offer me. Though interested, I don't think I would have otherwise gotten to the game, which itself didn't work out so well for the White Sox. (They lost 10-2 as starter James Shields served up the first career homers to three different Oakland A's.)

I also caught up with my diehard Sox pal Dave and another friend, and as is my wont took numerous pictures throughout the pregame ceremony for Mark Buehrle.

To honor him, but also to thank my friends for enabling me to see it in person, here are some of my best shots:

Longtime White Sox announce Ken "Hawk" Harrelson served as the ceremony's MC. On the chairs to his right are
Mark Buehrle's wife Jamie, daughter Brooklyn, his parents and Jamie's mother. Former Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is in
the white shirt closest to the bottom, alongside Jerry Reinsdorf, Ken Williams, Jerry Manuel and Don Cooper..
This was before the Buehrle ceremony began, but I got a good shot of Frank Thomas reporting to his TV gig
alongside Bill Melton.
In addition to Thomas several of Buehrle's teammates were present, including Joe Crede (in the blue shirt) and
to his left, Jon Garland and Jim Thome. Sitting behind the former players were members of the Sox' clubhouse,
maintenance and/or groundskeeping crew from Buehrle's years in Chicago.
At bottom right, Mark Buehrle takes the field with his son Braden, as also shown below.

With his own number already retired by the White Sox, Frank Thomas spoke at the ceremony.
White Sox principal owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who noted the large turnout to salute Buehrle by telling him:
"We don't get 40,000 fans at every game."
On behalf of the White Sox, Reinsdorf gave Buehrle both an ATV and pickup truck.
After making this incredible play in 2010, Buehrle gave the baseball to a young fan,
who on Saturday brought it back for him.

A brief video I shot of the unveiling of Mark Buehrle's number 56 among other retired numbers.

I'm not sure what Mark's dad was photographing here as his son spoke.
During his speech, Buehrle insisted Jamie, Braden and Brooklyn stand alongside him.
I thought it was classy for several current A's to watch the ceremony and join in the standing ovation.
 Mark Buehrle greeting Jon Garland
Always classy, Buehrle again shows his appreciation for White Sox crew members.
Former White Sox slugger Ron Kittle made this commemorative artwork for Buehrle and poses with him.

Braden Buehrle, Mark's son (soon to turn 10) sang the National Anthem
Brooklyn Buehrle, Mark's 8-year-old daughter, threw out the first pitch...
...and her purported velocity was noted as exceeding her dad's in his prime.
The White Sox take the field on Mark Buehrle Day. Giving up 10 runs in a game lasting nearly 3-1/2 hours,
they did not exemplify him well.

A commemorative pin given to all fans on Saturday

All photos by Seth Arkin, copyright 2017. Please do not repost without permission or attribution.